Hastings Law School drops a lawsuit over city zoning laws, the school and Housing Activists hope this can mean moving forward more cooperatively.
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Hastings Drops Its Suit Over City Zoning Laws
Hastings College of the Law — in an attempt to soften its adversarial image — dropped a controversial suit in San Francisco Superior Court Monday in which it had asked to be exempt from local zoning laws.
Hastings counsel Juliet Gee and James Mahoney, chairman of the school’s board of directors, said Hastings hopes that by backing down from the suit it can proceed with plans to develop its West Block property in a way that appeases the city and advocates of low-income housing.
“The dismissal takes us out of an adversarial posture so that the city and residents won’t be reacting to us from a knee-jerk, combative point of view,” Gee said.
“Now we’ve shown a good-faith effort to open up dialogue between the city, community and Hastings.”
Hastings sued last year, asking for a declaratory judgment that the school’s status as a state educational institution makes it “generally constitutionally exempt” from San Francisco planning and zoning ordinances.
The city claims, however, that the school is subject to local controls. Furthermore, neighborhood housing activists contend that Hastings’ development plans could result in the eviction of residents occupying 89 apartments and hotel rooms on the two-block site, which is bounded by Golden Gate Avenue and McAllister, Leavenworth and Larkin streets.
Hastings first indicated three years ago that it intended to develop its West Block property commercially — possibly for law firm offices and courthouse facilities. It also said the site could be used to expand its own campus.
An outcry by residents of the property persuaded the city planning commission to zone the area for mixed-used residential, a classification that precludes commercial development. The property previously had been zoned for commercial use, said Gee.
On Monday, Hastings’ announcement that it had dropped its suit drew cynical responses from housing activists, who said they were pleased with the school’s decision but not convinced that the battle was over.
“Although we’ve never seen any reason or rationale in Hastings’ actions, maybe this is a sign Hastings wants to work more cooperatively,” said Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which represented West Block residents in a suit opposing Hastings.
Shaw’s group had been joined by the North of Market Planning Coalition and others in fighting Hastings.
Shaw and Deputy City Attorney Melba Yee said that if Hastings attempts to develop the property commercially at the expense of low-income housing, they would take the school back to court.
“Whether the zoning laws apply to Hastings depends on their use of the property,” Yee said, “and we don’t know their use yet.”
Brad Paul, deputy mayor for housing and neighborhoods, has said the city will challenge any use that would displace residents.
Hastings, however, is not foreclosing future legal battles either.
“If the city or residents give us a hard time over picayune issues,” Gee said, “we wouldn’t hesitate in bringing another suit.”
Meanwhile, board chairman Mahoney said, Hastings already is considering five to seven proposals from companies interested in developing the property.
“Certainly,” Mahoney said, “there’s a possibility that we’ll include a housing component in the development plans.” But that is something he said the school could not guarantee.